Difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities are present among persons diagnosed with learning disabilities (LDs). Previous studies suggest a significant relationship between lead (Pb) exposure and LDs. This study evaluated the potential dose-response relationship between blood Pb levels and the risk of LDs. This cross-sectional study examined 1411 children (32,788,743 weighted-persons) between 6 and 15 years old from the 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) by analyzing demographics, health related-questions, and laboratory tests using survey logistic and frequency modeling in SAS. On a µg Pb/dL basis, a significant dose-dependent relationship between increasing blood Pb levels and increasing risk of LDs was observed (odds ratio (OR) = 1.21, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.03–1.43). The relationship remained significant when examining covariates such as gender and race (OR = 1.19, 95% CI = 1.00–1.40). By contrast, no dose-dependence was observed between increasing blood Pb levels and the risk of hay fever in the last year (OR = 0.77, 95% CI = 0.56–1.056), a non-plausibly biologically related outcome of blood Pb levels. Persons in the 50th–75th (12.80%) and 75th–100th (17.14%) percentiles of blood Pb were significantly more likely to have LDs than persons in the 0–50th percentile of blood Pb (8.78%). An estimated 1 million persons born in the US from 1989 to 1998 developed LDs from elevated blood Pb levels. Overall, this study revealed a significant dose-dependent association between increasing childhood blood Pb levels and the risk of a LD diagnosis, but it was not possible to ascribe a direct cause-effect relationship between blood Pb exposure and LD diagnosis. Childhood Pb exposure should be considered when evaluating children with LDs, and continuing efforts should be made to reduce Pb exposure.
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